Nov 25

Performance of present PSC – The 17th Amendment to the Constitution provides, inter alia, for the appointment of a Public Service Commission to be responsible for ensuring that Public Officers are appointed, promoted, transferred and disciplined according to the provisions of the law, including the PSC Rules, without being influenced by political or other unacceptable pressures. The first PSC appointed under the 17th Amendment has carried out these tasks most conscientiously for nearly three years and is to be congratulated for fulfilling its responsibilities under difficult conditions and, in particular, resisting some powerful but highly misguided attempts to influence it improperly.

Poor Service to the Public by the State Sector – Although the PSC has performed its limited role in a satisfactory way, the general public continues to be very unhappy about the poor service provided to the nation by most sections of the Public Service and other state institutions. On account of the fact that members of the public perceive the PSC to be the apex body for ensuring that Public Officers work efficiently, humanely and in an impartial manner, they cannot understand why there has been no noticeable improvement in this respect after the passing of the 17th Amendment. Any benefit the public gets from an effective PSC is limited to the relatively minor indirect advantage arising from the fact that Public Officers are treated fairly and kept largely insulated from coercion by those who believe that they have the power to issue orders which are plainly illegal or grossly wasteful of public resources.

Responsibility of Ministry Secretaries – The responsibility for getting Public Officers to work efficiently, humanely and fairly is an altogether different matter and is, at present, solely in the hands of the Secretaries to the various Ministries. Regrettably, however, under the current constitutional provisions, Secretaries are appointed by the President largely on the basis of their expected commitment to the political programmes and personalities of the governing party and not on any objective criteria regarding the efficiency of such appointees or their concern for the tribulations that members of the public have to undergo in almost every government or semi-governmental institution.
In practice, most Secretaries spend their time trying to find tortuous argumentation to justify doing things for their Ministers or the President which they (the Secretaries) would not feel justified in doing if left to decide matters on their own. Thereby, the public is deprived of the competent, friendly and just service it is entitled to expect from Public Officers whose emoluments, incidentally, absorb a disproportionately high fraction of the massive direct and indirect taxes collected from hardworking taxpayers.

Business Management and Human Resources Management – The State spends large sums of money on sending Public Officers for management courses, seminars and workshops. The majority of such trained officers have no interest in actually applying what they have learnt to improve the performance of the Public Service because their sole motivation in tertiary education is mostly targeted towards getting a promotional advantage over other fellow officers who lack such qualifications. Even the rare officer who tries to put his hard-earned theoretical knowledge into practice is almost invariably stymied by outdated financial regulations, administrative practices and the lethargy of those in the higher echelons who cannot face the prospect seeing their subordinates improving a system which they have tailored over the years to suit their own interests. In any event, after some time, most Public Officers appear to acquire a powerful inertia against trying anything new, however desirable it might be in the public interest.

What is necessary – If it is the desire of legislators to limit the functions and powers of the PSC to what they are now, the least that they could do is to empower and finance the Council for Administration to ensure that it does not spend most of its time looking only into salary anomalies but also engages itself vigorously in setting up effective systems for monitoring the performance of Public Officers and others employed in the State sector, and additionally in formulating simple procedures for the public to complain about instances of inefficient and discourteous service by Public Officers. There is no point in waiting for some wrong to be done by a Public Officer and then punishing him. What is required is to have clear procedures in place to prevent such wrongs being done. CIMOGG, therefore, calls upon the new administration to take early and well-thought out steps to make our Public Service serve the public efficiently, humanely and fairly.

Nov 09

CIMOGG appealed through the press in September 2005 calling upon Parliament to enact legislation containing a Code of Conduct for all judicial officers and recommended that the said Code should be based on THE BANGALORE PRINCIPLES OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT. As a result of certain incidents and facts considered independently by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), its Council has recently decided to appoint a high-powered and highly-respected committee to draft a Code of Conduct for Judges. This is a highly gratifying development.

In the interests of getting the Code of Conduct as rapidly as possible into the law of the country, CIMOGG has suggested, in its letter of 2 November 2005 addressed to the BASL, that the BASL should call upon its three-member committee to recommend adoption of THE BANGALORE PRINCIPLES OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT in toto as the basis of the proposed Code of Conduct, making only those additions or modifications which may be unavoidable to meet the Sri Lankan situation. Quite apart from the saving of time, adopting this approach would keep us closely in line with international standards in this area of good governance.

CIMOGG has also taken the opportunity to seek BASLs support to upgrade the quality and independence of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) as it is our view that, to continue to keep the JSC under the sole, absolute control of whoever is the current Chief Justice is not the best possible arrangement. Therefore, we have asked the BASL to take the initiative to press Parliament to create new legislation to make the JSC, say, a seven-member body of which only three would be judicial officers (active or retired) and the four others would be distinguished legal academics and/or public figures of high integrity. The judicial officers could be recommended by the most recently retired, living Chief Justice and the others by the Constitutional Council, all being appointed by the President within a fixed time period of the date of the recommendations.

We call upon other associations, individuals, the media and concerned members of the public to add their voices to CIMOGGs in getting these two pieces of legislation passed as early as possible.